Michael Mullan - João Amaral
Portuguese public life will be duller without João Amaral.
The eloquent and charismatic communist dedicated 40 of his 59 years to his party,
emerging from clandestinity to a brilliant parliamentary career. He was admired
by figures across the political spectrum - with the exception of some of the
dinosaurs in control of the party he loved and strove to renovate. The Republic’s
president, Jorge Sampaio, praised “the decades spent in a great contribution
to democracy” by a man he recognised as “a political and moral reference
point in Portuguese society”.
Born in the Azores, at the height of Salazar’s fascist
dictatorship, Amaral broke ranks with his conservative family background when
he went to study law in Coimbra in 1964 and got involved with the student union
movement, a front for the underground Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). After
national service, he became secretary-general of the Oporto Metalworkers’
Union, until 1974, when the April 25 “revolution of the carnations”
brought a bloodless end to the dictatorship.
Amaral was a cabinet aide in several of the provisional governments
that preceded his election to parliament in 1976. Although the PCP’s electoral
fortunes dwindled, Amaral held his seat time after time and was deputy speaker
of the Assembly by 2002, when the party de-selected him for speaking his mind
too freely. During his career as an MP, he had the distinction of being the
very first communist to sit in NATO’s parliamentary assembly.
He also headed, from 1989 up to his death, the municipal assembly
of Lisbon. Even after his left-wing coalition lost the Lisbon elections in 2001,
the capital’s councillors still chose the witty, snappily dressed, workaholic
and heretical communist to chair their debates. His heresy was straightforward:
after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the retirement of veteran PCP leader
Alvaro Cunhal, Amaral was one of the most prominent “renewalists”
- renovadores - in his party.
These PCP stalwarts argued that the “democratic centralist”
structures that held the party together as the backbone of the resistance to
the dictatorship were now past their sell-by date. Amaral often outraged the
party hierarchy by using the public media to argue for open and free debate
within and around the PCP, “a party that has a future as well as a past”,
as he put it.
Of his most prominent comrades in the renewal tendency, Luis
Sá died of cancer (as has Amaral); Edgar Correia and Carlos Luis Figueira
were brutally expelled; Carlos Brito was suspended. Amaral, who had given so
much to the PCP, stuck with it even when it dropped him from the parliamentary
ticket last year, absurdly accusing him of disloyalty for having questioned
the leadership’s hostility towards the Socialist Party. It would have
been a public relations disaster for the PCP to have expelled such a popular
Even after his death, the leadership sent a bland telegram of condolence to the family of “the citizen João Amaral” - not the comrade, the tireless fighter, the sparkling parliamentarian - and none of the PCP leaders turned up at his wake. Amaral’s widow, Luisa Gueifão, arrived at the PCP headquarters shortly after his funeral, with her four sons and her sister-in-law, to hand back their party cards.
João António Gonçalves do Amaral, politician: born Angra do Heroísmo, Azores, 7 December 1943; died Lisbon, 10 January 2003.
Michael Mullan - Obituaries...
Spanish translation by Juan Manuel Grijalvo (pending)...